After only a few years of being the "it" ultra-portable technology, netbooks may be entering the sunset years of their life-cycle now that tablets have burst onto the scene (think Apple iPad). Netbooks and tablets have significant advantages over each other: In attempt to create the "best of both worlds" several companies have developed convertible tablets, which allow you to convert the netbook into a tablet and back again. One of these is the IdeaPad S10-3t from Lenovo. Over the last few months, I have been test-driving a loaner on a review basis. While, on paper, the S10-3t has a lot of promise, my experience left me with mixed emotions.
The first thing you will notice about the S10-3t is that it is a bit longer and thicker than the typical netbook-11 inches by 6.9 inches by 1.1 inches (). Despite the added dimensions, this IdeaPad has a very netbook-like weight of less than three pounds. Lenovo is able to counter the added weight of the rotating hinge and touch display by using a lighter four-cell battery (many netbooks come with a six-cell battery). While using a smaller battery makes the S10-3t a breeze to carry, it also will leave you looking for the nearest outlet (which I touch on later).
While the high-gloss black back lid gives the S10-3t a highly stylized look, it is also a finger print (and scratch) magnet.
What really sets the S10-3t apart from most of its counterparts is its swivel display. By rotating the screen 180 degrees, you can lay the screen flat against the keyboard. This allows the S10-3t to surpass the typical tablet by offering a built-in keyboard, a plus for those wanting tablet functionality without the need to use a virtual keyboard. The IdeaPad S10-3t has a 10-inch wide screen with a native resolution of 1,024 by 600 pixels. With the multi-touch display, you can use your fingers to navigate the desktop as well as use two fingers to pinch or enlarge windows, documents or pictures. However, since the display is capacitive (versus resistive), you cannot use a stylus with the S10-3t to navigate or take advantage of Windows 7 handwriting recognition.
Being able to alternate between a netbook and a tablet is definitely a nice feature of the S10-3t, especially since you have a built-in keyboard. By offering normal-sized keys, however, Lenovo had to squeeze the keys closer together and sacrificed wrist-rest space. I didn't find the former to be much of a problem-typing was relatively easy. The keyboard configuration took some getting used to, especially when it came to the "home" and "end" keys, which require the Function (fn) key. While I didn't find the keyboard overly cramped, the small wrist rest space did make typing for extend periods of time somewhat uncomfortable. The most annoying thing of all, however, was the abysmally small touchpad and its integrated touch points (instead of dedicated mouse buttons). Having become accustomed to operating a touchpad with two fingers, I often found the cursor jumping across the screen when I accidentally hit the touchpad with my left thumb. It got to the point that I ended up using a wireless USB mouse to avoid the frustrations of the touchpad.
With only two USB ports, I also found myself having to swap devices depending on what I needed to do. At any given time I was juggling between the USB mouse, memory stick, and USB modem. With many other netbooks these days offering three USB ports, it would be nice to see Lenovo add another to this in the future.
The IdeaPad S10-3t model I was provided for this review had the newer 1.83GHz Atom N470 processor, 2G of memory, Bluetooth, and a 250G hard drive. It also came with Windows 7 Home Premium installed. Base models of the S10-3t have the older 1.66Ghz Atom N450 processor, 1G of memory, 160G hard drive, and Windows 7 Starter; they do not have Bluetooth. All IdeaPad S10-3t models also come with built-in 802.11n Wi-Fi.
While in tablet mode, I found the touch display to be responsive, for the most part. From time to time, especially when trying to navigate smaller menus, I had to tap multiple times in order to get the system to do what I wanted it to do.
Interestingly, I ran across reviews bemoaning the absence of a virtual keyboard when in tablet mode. However, I found I was able to pull up an on-screen keyboard using Windows Ease of Access Center in the Control Panel.
Despite the better technical specs, my S10-3t review model did not offer much of a performance boost versus my two-year-old EeePC. I suspect that some of this had to do with Windows 7 Home Premium being a bit of a resource hog. That being said, I didn't experience too many snags while performing a variety of tasks. The only time it appeared to me that the Atom processor was overtaxed was while watching streaming online video.
Depending on the angle at which you are viewing, as well as the lighting conditions, it can be quite difficult to make out what is on the screen. The high-gloss screen reflects light, making outside viewing all but impossible. Even while in my office, I had trouble viewing the screen due to the reflection of the overhead lights.
Perhaps most disappointing aspect of the S10-3t is its battery life. One of great things about netbooks is their extended battery life. However, the four-cell battery that comes with the S10-3t offers less than three hours of video-viewing. Even when performing general word processing, you aren't able to squeeze much more than four hours out of the battery. While the literature I received from Lenovo states that an eight-cell battery is available, I was not able to find a place to order the battery at the Lenovo website.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t holds a lot of promise. A convertible tablet system with a built-in keyboard is definitely an attractive feature for those looking for a tablet. The touch screen is on par with what I have experienced with my iPad. Yet the S10-3t also offers greater functionality than what is found with the typical tablet.
That being said, the netbook side of the S10-3t leaves a bit to be desired. My chief complaints are the below-average battery life and the frustratingly small touch pad. While I don't get much better battery life from my iPad 3G, it is connecting wirelessly to the Internet. In addition, the computing resources required to operate the touchscreen can make the S10-3t run sluggishly from time to time.
If you are looking for a tablet system, the S10-3t may be an interesting choice, given the added benefits also having the capabilities of a netbook. However, if you are more enticed by the virtues of a netbook the S10-3t probably isn't what you are looking for. There are many other "pure" netbooks out there offering similar configurations at lower prices, and with much longer battery life.
$549 to $599
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of "Gadget Corner." All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.